Bots. When data came out less than a year ago that a large amount of web clicks and online traffic is due to bots, and not people, the advertising community was furious. And rightfully so; those ghost clicks were costing brands millions of dollars, and they fluffed up the "success" rate for many agencies and marketing teams. Without any clear information on how much interaction was real, now clients and agencies are having much difficulty trying to not only determine the real success, but to decide what kind of money should really be spent online with bots crawling the online environment.
And it's no small issue.
The WSJ is reporting that the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is pairing up with ad fraud detection group WhiteOps, along with 30 other advertisers, to get a sense on how much fraudulent traffic is really out there, and to start figuring out which sites have more fake traffic than others.
The partnership did not reveal to WSJ which advertisers are helping, but the word is that Proctor & Gamble, J&J, and GM — companies with the biggest ad budgets — are included in this operation.
The article also quoted eMarketer, which states that digital spending is supposed to increase to $140 billion this year worldwide, so if it is true that close to half of the money marketers spend on digital is going to bot traffic, then this operation is crucial.
People are blaming the automated advertising exchanges, where advertisers can buy and sell space, and the real-time bidding networks, where advertisers and buyers can trade, buy, and sell space based on the value at that specific time. Are these networks and platforms useful? Sure, that's why they got popular in the first place. But are they worth the risk of bot fraud? That's where the answer isn't so easy.
We're torn on the notion of going completely away from human interaction when it comes to media and ad buying. Though we're Millennials and love technology, sometimes transactions just need a personal touch. But we can also see how these digital marketplaces can be very beneficial. We don't think marketers should trash these marketplaces, but increased due diligence and knowing the people behind the marketplaces could prove to lower the anxiety of using them.
Once the study is complete, the ANA will release the findings so all advertisers can use the report as a benchmark against their own digital media practices. Let's all hope it's not as bad as we think.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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